The purpose of this resource is to offer a comprehensive overview of global human rights due diligence legislation, including both proposed and enacted laws. Initially created for the Australian Cotton Industry, this document is also valuable for policymakers, industry professionals, civil society, and scholars interested in understanding trends in human rights due diligence, comparing legislation across countries, and estimating anticipated changes for businesses operating in Australia.
The Growing Focus on Mandatory Due Diligence
Over the past few decades, there has been heightened scrutiny on the societal impacts of businesses. International organizations have developed non-binding guidelines and recommendations since the 1970s, acknowledging companies’ responsibility to uphold human rights and implement due diligence across supply chains. However, these voluntary international agreements have fallen short in effectively safeguarding human rights within commercial supply chains. Consequently, governments have experienced increasing pressure to incorporate these guidelines into domestic legislation.
In recent years, there has been a notable increase in country-level due diligence legislation, inspired by guidelines from international organizations. Examples of such legislation include the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act 2010, the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015, the French Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law 2017, and the Australian Modern Slavery Act 2018. Our analysis highlights the rapid development of due diligence legislation, with numerous drafts currently under parliamentary discussion. Critics have voiced concerns regarding the nature of these reforms, citing lenient penalties, weak requirements, and a limited scope of businesses affected. Despite these criticisms, the growing prevalence of domestic due diligence legislation demonstrates its potential to pave the way for significant change.
Key trends in human rights due diligence legislation:
- Increasing robustness: New legally binding regulatory frameworks are becoming increasingly more robust, with the expectation that mandatory due diligence across supply chains will be the end result.
- Expanding expectations: There is a growing expectation for small and medium-sized businesses to incorporate aspects of due diligence, as seen in the Aotearoa New Zealand proposal and Canadian Modern Slavery Act.
- Industry-specific legislation: Laws targeting specific industries have emerged, such as the New York Fashion Act and the US FABRIC Act.
- Broadening scope : Some proposals extend the scope of workplace violations to include worker exploitation, as in the Aotearoa New Zealand proposal.
- Legal redress for victims: Certain laws provide opportunities for victims to seek legal redress, as in the Dutch Child Labor Law.
- Increased fines and penalties: Some acts impose higher fines and penalties, such as the US Uyghur Forced Labor Act and the German Act on Corporate Due Diligence.
These trends indicate a global shift towards stronger and more comprehensive human rights due diligence legislation, emphasising the importance of businesses in upholding human rights and promoting sustainability across their supply chains.